Monday, December 20, 2010

Creative Inspiration: The Ghost of New Year's Past

This is the final CI post for 2010. I'll see you back here in the new year!

I considered writing this post about Peggy or Duana, two wonderful women I loved and lost in 2010. But, Peggy wouldn't like sappy and Duana would flat-out smack me. So, in their honor ... here's a happy holiday memory:

My favorite New Year's Eve celebrations were the ones Mom put on for me and Harry and Eva when we were little. (Yes, Dad was there. But the parties were Mom's doing.) There were yummy hors d'oeuvres instead of dinner; Eva was especially fond of the frozen shrimp from Safeway. Mom made mock cocktails, orange juice and Collins mix. No drink has ever tasted better. There were noisemakers and games and Dick Clark at midnight.

There was happiness for all we were and hope for all we would become -- Mom and Dad were 100 percent certain their three kids would turn out special. They thought we hung the moon. Dad believed that his whole life. Mom still does, so I guess we've done all right.

And, of course, the reason we've done all right is because people like Mom and Dad expected nothing less. They believed in us. Now, that's a gift.

I hope 2011 is the year your dreams are strengthened and supported by people who realize just how special you are. May it be a year of good health and good work, of happiness and hope. May it be a year filled with the joy of companionship and the peace of solitude.

May it be a year where the joy we create honors the people we miss.

Thanks for being part of the CI team!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Fun: So You Want to Write a Novel

On Monday, I told you I was going to blog this week and then take a break for the rest of the year. I've changed my mind. I want to share a funny video today and I'll post something brilliant later, before I sign off for the holidays. You can hold me to that: It's good to have a goal.

Here's a video for all of us who still consider writing an art. It's the work of David Kazzie.

And, after we watch the video, let's write a novel! I mean, heck. It's the weekend. We have two days. How hard can it be?

Thanks to David S. for the link!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Creativity Tips: Support Your Team

One of the gifts I receive from this blog is the connection to incredibly talented people. It's a treat for me to point you toward the Best Gifts of 2010, all available from the amazing CI team.

Bud Simpson's photography dazzles me. I don't even know where to begin. His artistic eye, his technical genius. He makes me laugh, he makes me think, he makes me happy. Go. Look. Buy.

Leslie Adams is my daily partner in crime ... oops, I meant "in creativity." And I'm so proud of her for starting to sell her gorgeous work. The set of cards pictured here is just a sample. Check it out. $8 for a set of four, and you can use them as holiday "thank you" cards. (You do write "thank you" cards, right? Of course. Just checking.) We're also selling the official Creative Instigation postcards.

Lezlie with a Z has brought so much joy to my life this year. I love her music, her voice, her lyrics. If you're done with gift purchases, buy a CD for yourself.

I don't even have words to tell you how proud I am of Joe and Michele and their book, Harzfeld's: A Brief History. It's a fascinating story -- and it's published! It's a real book! They've had real book signings! Your library needs this book.

So there's a quick sampling. Fine art. Gorgeous photos. Soul-stirring music. Captivating stories. All you need for the holidays is here!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Headless Chicken and Holiday Windows

I am running around like the proverbial headless chicken. I'm fried. Ha! There's a joke somewhere ... chcken, fried ... but I'm too tired to put it together.

Fortunately, I have a team. So when I'm too pooped to blog, I turn to the team. Joe and Michele have been posting about the cool Holiday Windows on Main contest. Check it out -- voting is open until tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'll present my version of the Best Gifts of 2010 on Thursday. And there may be a rubber chicken included ...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food is Love: Play With Your Food

Yep, another Food is Love feature that's not on Friday. Blame it on the holidays. And this is a holiday post, because some of you may plan to make the cranberry pie I raved about before Thanksgiving as part of your Christmas meal.

Before you do ... read this and prepare to play with your food. And the recipe.

When I made the recipe again, I didn't like it as much. I discussed this important dessert situation with my buddy Scott, who also made the pie for Thanksgiving. We decided the recipe is perfect for adjusting:

1. It needs more cranberries. We both used more than the recipe called for -- and it still wasn't enough. Scott also mentioned using both cherries and cranberries, which I think sounds really yummy. But more fruit would be good. Which brings us to ... too much crust.

2. When I made the pie the first time, I used a regular pie pan and a bunch of the crust overflowed and had to be cut off. Therefore, the crust left on the pie was thinner. And, frankly, it was better that way. (Creativity! Mistakes can be the best thing ever.)

3. The pecans are good, but they get lost in the filling. Scott said he might use walnuts instead of pecans the next time, and add them to the batter rather than the filling.

Basically, recipes are my Pirate's Code: "They're not so much rules as they are guidelines."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Creativity Tips: Give Yourself a Gift

A couple of weeks ago, I spent Friday - Sunday goofing off. It may have been right after Thanksgiving. Whatever, I didn't do a dang thing that was productive.

You know what happened? Monday, I got up and wrote a poem I really, really like. I edited it a little the next day and my writers' workshop edited it a little more, but ... basically ... it was good from the get-go.

Remarkable? Well, I hadn't written a complete poem in months and this one wrote itself in minutes.

The fact that I was happily creative after a three-day break isn't coincidental. Our hectic lives are creativity killers. Multi-tasking remains a myth. Minds need time to focus and, now and then, the focus must be on rest. So, I'm going to blog this week, then take the rest of the year off for a holiday break.

But enough about me. How are you? Excited about the week ahead? Or stressed about everything you need to get done? Hmmm. That's what I thought. OK, here's what you're going to do:
  1. Take another look at your to do list.
  2. Scratch things off that don't really and truly have to be done.
  3. Sit back and smile.
Time is one of the best gifts we have. And we can give it to ourselves. Ain't life grand?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Food is Love: Naked Ginger Men

OK, we'll start with the obvious. If you have reached this post because you Googled "Naked Men" and this link came up, my sincere apologies. I know a recipe is very disappointing.

For the rest of you, it's your lucky day. Angela's recipe = my new favorite cookies. Seriously. I want a ginger man right now. And it won't surprise you to learn that I like them better naked. Thanks for the cookies and the guest post, Ang!

Faced with the dilemma of wanting to meet Jan for coffee and needing to make cookies for a family get-together, I knew something was going to have to give. Perfect cookies vs. much-needed time with a friend, how could I get both? The ginger men would just have to be naked.

Nobody really cares if the cookies have cute little frosting faces. In fact, I think naked ginger men are better. Not overly sweet and the spices really come through. Frost if you must but leave some bare so you save time to do something else – like catching up with a friend or enjoying a few minutes of holiday tranquility.

Gingerbread cookies, makes 3 dozen
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  1. Cream butter with sugar and molasses. Add egg.
  2. Whisk together flour, soda, salt and spices in a separate bowl. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.
  3. Chill dough in refrigerator for a few hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Dust your work surface lightly with flour and roll out dough to desired thickness.
  5. Cut into shapes and place on greased cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 10 mins.
  6. While cookies are still warm, you can add raisins or other decorations. Or let cool and frost. They are really good with no decoration at all -- crisp and spicy like ginger snaps

Note from Jan: You'll find more about this recipe on Angela's new blog, Mom's recipes. The blog is a tribute honoring the memory of her amazing mom -- and it's a gift to us all. Talk about "Food is Love."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Creativity Tips: A Handy Idea

This could be a case of what my mom would call, Little things amuse little minds. And yet ...

We went to Bob Evans for dinner recently and got a laugh out of the new menu promoting their burgers. It's a little thing, but by simply adding physical interaction to a typically static object, the restaurant chain "grabbed" our attention.

Kate, who's "holding" the burger here, and I ordered what we always order at Bob Evans. Tom, on the other hand, did order a big burger. And I have to say, his meal measured up to the menu!

The creativity tips? Look for ways to add another dimension to your work. And make sure your results deliver on your promise!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

P.S. Doghouse video

For those of you who receive the blog via email ... here's the doghouse link from this morning's post. Funny video. Good ad. Happy Wednesday!

Good Ads: In the Doghouse

This is worth every second ... and, guys, it will help you stay out of the doghouse. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Creativity Tips: Join the Adventure

One of the most creative women I know, my wonderful Kate, is blogging for a class at college. Check it out: Adventures of a Young Mind.

I love her voice, and the way it comes through in her writing. When a writer conveys an authentic voice, the audience doesn't just read the words ... the audience hears the words.

My first baby. I think I'll keep her.

P.S. Yes, yes, yes. Tom has a claim on her too. And she's a person all on her own. And I sound awfully possessive. What can I say? I'm a Jewish mother. This is what we do. (Hmmm. I bet that explanation would be just as accurate without the adjective.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Listen to Vanessa

Here's a wonderful quote to start the week, stolen from my friend Vanessa's Facebook page. Thanks, VB!

"Before you speak, ask yourself … is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?" -- Sai Baba

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Eight Tips to Boost Your Creativity

This is the first day of Chanukah. Which means last night was the first night, since the holiday began at sunset. And, if you think that's confusing, try to remember the right way to put the candles in the menorah, and the right way to light them. There are rules for everything.

Are there rules for creativity? Sure! In honor of the eight days of Chanukah, here are my top eight creativity rules:
  1. Get moving. Creativity requires action. Having an imaginative idea is a step in the right direction -- and not necessarily the first step. Creativity, creating, requires implementation.
  2. Breathe. This is your brain. This is your brain on oxygen. Are you rested? Are you exercising? Are you taking care of you? Breathe in, breathe out.
  3. Believe in your own talents. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, too.
  4. Practice every day. Creativity is craft. The more you write, love, paint, parent, bake, coach ... the better.
  5. Experiment. There are approximately 80 gazillion ways to be creative. If writing doesn't bring you joy, try something else. If writing does bring you joy, try something else. You never know where you'll find talents and happiness.
  6. Connect the dots. Let the skills you've learned shooting photos help you edit copy. Approach a medical appointment as though it were a meeting with your child's teacher. Ask yourself, "How would I do this if ... "
  7. Step away from the computer. Give your brain a break. Step away from everything and everyone. Just be.
  8. Go for the goal. We move toward what we see. See the happy ending.

By the by, these are my eight rules for today. Tomorrow they'll be different. Here's my suggestion: Make your own rules. Check out the Linden rules. And fry/try a latke!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Creativity Tips: Cause Happiness

This magnet on my refrigerator makes me laugh every time I notice it.* Why? Because the rest of the Oscar Wilde quote is ... "Others, whenever they go."

Is it OK for Mary Engelbreit to change the context to fit her creative needs? You tell me.

*Have you ever noticed how quickly things become invisible? We get so used to our surroundings -- including people -- that we don't see them. It takes an effort to really see your world. It's worth the effort.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creativity Exercise: If I Were a Rock Star ...

You know I think you rock. Now, it's time to show the world. Enter the "If I Were a Rock Star" giveaway.

The "Rock Star" giveaway is a 25-word creativity exercise with big honking prizes. Here's a related creativity exercise with no prize at all: Tell me why the copy on the page I linked to makes me crazy. And we're not talking crazy in a good way ...

The entry deadline for the giveaway is Dec. 15, 2010. There's no deadline for discovering my issue with their copy. Because I'm kvetchy now, and I'll still be kvetchy Dec. 16.

But I do think you rock.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Bertrand Russell

As we start back to work, let's keep life in perspective. As Bertrand Russell once said:

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important.

And, once again, I'm glad to be a copywriter. Not a brain surgeon. Happy Monday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I remember the last time I felt completely caught up, the last time my personal and professional to do list was clear.

It was 1987.

I was stretched out on the couch in our new home, which was spotless. I had finished the chores and was waiting for Tom. I was so bored, I invented a reason to be busy: I decided, right there and then, that we needed a dog. That decision led to Snowball; aka, RocketDog; aka, our first child. (I mean no disrespect to Kate. If you've had a pet, you understand that "first child" feeling.) I haven't caught up with life since we drove Snowball home.

Now, you may think this is the start of a lecture on wiping things off the to do list so you can enjoy the holidays. Nope. This is a reminder that, like me, you might love most of your list. And this is the perfect time of the year to embrace that wonderful fact.

For example, I love:
  • Standing in my living room, admiring the house after I clean.
  • Having the entire family home, even if just for one big meal.
  • Baking goodies. Buying presents. Wrapping.
Is creating a lovely holiday season time-consuming? Absolutely. And I hope you enjoy every single second. I'll see you back here on Monday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Thanks!

OK, this is going to be fast, so look sharp:
  1. Get out a clean sheet of paper. And a pen. Or pencil. Or crayon.
  2. Write down five things you're thankful for this year. But wait! It's a trick question. You can only mention things that wouldn't have been on your list last year.
  3. If it takes more than two minutes to do this exercise, be thankful I don't expect you to devote that much time to it. I just wanted to get your brain working in a different direction.
Someone recently told me their family really does the old tradition -- they go around the Thanksgiving table and everyone expresses gratitude for something. Hmmmmm. We don't even sit around a table. The adults are in the dining room. The kids (and this would be anyone 55 and under) gather in the living room. The rest of our group (don't ask) lurks in the kitchen.

But the theory certainly does sound lovely ...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Food is Love: Nantucket Cranberry Pie

I know, I know. You expect the Food is Love feature on Fridays. Well, consider this a public service announcement for Thanksgiving: Make this pie. Ohmygoodness. I made it, took it to Mo's house yesterday, and the crowd went crazy.

I would take full credit for the deliciousness, but all I did was follow the Nantucket Cranberry Pie recipe from the Pioneer Woman.*

Buy the ingredients now. Bake it Wednesday. Eat it Thursday. Thank me later.

*I did use the entire bag of cranberries, which was more than 2 cups. But I'd do that again. Also, the pie overflowed, but I used a pie tin instead of the recommended cake pan. My bad. Fortunately, I had the pie tin on a cookie sheet, and the overflow crust became cookies. Really, it's that good.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Food is Love: Apple Brown Betty

There are people who can make pie crusts. I am not one of those people. Frankly, I burn the already made, just-place-it-in-the-pie-tin crusts. Fortunately, there's Apple Brown Betty -- one of my Thanksgiving staples. This recipe is from the classic Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. It's a "don't mess with success" recipe; perfect as is*. And easy.

Apple Brown Betty
4 cups sliced pared tart apples (They say you can also use 1 1-pound 2-ounce can of pie-sliced applies drained, but I always use the fresh apples.)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
1/2 cup butter (Unsalted, because I say so and it's my blog, gosh darn it.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mound apples in buttered 9-inch pie plate; sprinkle with orange juice. Combine sugar, flour, spices, and salt; cut in butter till mixture is crumbly; sprinkle over apples. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or till apples are tender and topping is crisp. (I always put the pie plate on a cookie sheet, to protect the oven from run-over drips.)

Serve warm with cream. Or cold with ice cream. Or just bury your head in the pie plate and slurp. This is not recommended if you're sharing.

*I did change the name. BHG calls it Apple Betty. I've always called it Apple Brown Betty. You'll just call it delicious.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Creativity Tips: Don't Say It

I'm pretty dang direct. I like to consider that part of my charm.* But this poem by Joyce Sutphen is so wonderful, it just might inspire me to try subtle.

*Hey! Stop laughing. It could be charming. To someone. Someday. It's possible ...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Creativity Tips: Expand Your Team

You know the whole right-brain, left-brain discussion? I have trouble remembering which is which and how they know. I think right brain is creative; left brain is strategic. I don't care enough to look it up.

So why am I babbling about it? Because there are amazing, wonderful people out there who use both sides of their brain all the time. And you need at least one of these talents on your creative team.

Take, for example, Cory. He's a numbers, strategic, business guy at his day-to-day job. And he writes like this.*

It never pays to pigeonhole people. Trust me on this.

*Note to Vicki: If this makes him difficult to live with, I apologize. :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Perspective

Here's your exercise for today: Tell me where I was standing*, in relationship to the boat, to take this photo. Or, tell me why you can't tell me. Post a comment or send an email to

*For the smart alecks on the team (and this will astonish you but we do have one or two), I was standing at the St. Augustine Lighthouse with Lynn and Will and Wanda. But that's not what I'm asking ...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Isak Dinesen

Since many of you don't visit the blog to read it (isn't technology wonderful!), I'm going to share the new Quick Quote with you:

"The cure for anything is salt water -- sweat, tears or the sea."
Isak Dinesen

I think that's beautiful, accurate and I wanted to share. The photo is a shot from Amelia Island, possibly my favorite beach of all time.

Happy Monday! And to start the week off right, visit Leslie's blog and enter her giveaway!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Food is Love: Pumpkin Bread

Can you believe Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away? Time really does fly ... whether you're having fun or not.

Right now, I'm having fun planning for the big meal. My grandmother's pumpkin bread is always on the menu. It's yummy. And this recipe makes three good-sized loaves. Or two loaves and muffins. Mmmmm. Pumpkin muffins. They even sound delicious. Enjoy!

Sophie's Pumpkin Bread
3 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
4 eggs
1 16 oz. can of pumpkin
3 1/2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix together all ingredients. Pour into loaf pans and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. More or less. Size matters, so consider the size of your pans and check as you go. (My grandmother's note says she used the 3x7 disposable pans and this made four pans. The note also says she took it to the May 3 potluck. I love old notes.)

FYI, I generally put about 1/3 or 1/2 cup of raisins in just one of the loaves. I like raisins, but not everyone in the family does. This recipe gives you so much batter, you can please everyone. Happy people, breaking bread together. I'm always thankful for that!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

After a lovely trip to New York and Florida, I'm back in Kansas. Enjoy the song. And don't make me tote my old 44.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Will I Be Pretty?

Consider the power of just one word -- pretty -- on a child's self image. On a mother-daughter relationship. On life.

This video of poetry slammer Katie Makkai is making the rounds on Facebook ... I think it's worth a listen. As she might say, it's pretty amazing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Creativity Exercise: United Wayward

What's wrong with this picture?

Leslie found the mistake ... giving us today's exercise and two lessons ...

Lesson #1: Proofread, proofread, proofread. Then have someone else proof it again. Then, and only then, print 80 gazillion copies to be distributed around the country.

Lesson #2: It's not brain surgery. Editing errors rarely kill. And if there's one thing we're all United in, it's this ... we all make mistakes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Smile

Do I want you to smile? Absolutely. It's good for you. But we're going beyond your beautiful grin.

In the next two hours, I want you to do something specifically designed to make someone else smile. Like what? Well, you could compliment a barista. Really listen to a kid. Mail a note to someone you miss. Bake an unexpected cake for the neighbors. Post a nice comment on my blog.*

There are a million ways to create happiness. Find one in the next two hours.

P.S. What's the longest word in the English language? Smiles ... there's a mile between the first and last letter. (Did that work? Did you smile? Cool!)

*No, it's not all about me. But your comments do make me smile.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fun: Rest

Want to have a great weekend? Start well rested. Find a place to sit and breathe. You don't need to read. You don't need to do anything. Simply sit.

After a minute or two, feel your body start to unclench. Do you know how much time we spend -- every day -- tightening our muscles for no particular reason? It's ridiculous. And we're doing it to ourselves.

So don't tell me you work on the weekend. Don't tell me you don't have time to sit. Whatever schedule we follow, we deserve a few minutes of every day. To sit. Breathe. And just be.

FYI, I took the photo when Tom and I arrived at the Mountain Sunrise cabin. And then I sat.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Celebrating Creative Collaborations

I'm in Troy, New York, today ... hosting an all-day creativity room at the PRSA Northeast District conference. Very fun!

And, very inspirational. Every group I've spoken to recently has asked if I have a book to sell. I don't. Following my initial brilliant business model, I have a book to give away. Please. Download. Read. Instigate.

But, about that whole "selling" thing. This time, when PRSA asked about a book, my wonderful creative collaborator -- Leslie -- kicked me into merchandising gear. Using the fun photos she took for my business cards, Leslie produced Creative Instigation postcards.

That good idea grew. We're now selling creativity kits too; the folks in Troy are the first to see the goodies.

The cards and the kits make me happy -- just looking at them makes me feel official. And I wouldn't have them without the PRSA prompt and Leslie's talents at photography, production and prodding! Creative collaboration. It's a wonderful thing.

P.S. My grandfather, Issie, was a merchant. He would want me to tell you this: A set of four postcards is $8. The creativity kit -- which includes the four postcards, Groucho glasses, a Groucho magnet, finger puzzle and other goodies -- is $15. Shipping in the U.S. is included. Placing an order is easy: Send an email to

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Video Creativity Tips: I Can Be Taught

Did you know that people use video online? Yep. It's true. I guess there's this whole YouTube thingie and people put videos on blogs and everything. Wow.

So, here we go on the next Creative Instigation adventure! I now have a channel on YouTube and will periodically share video posts. My first attempt comes to you from Steel Creek in Arkansas. I'm going to embed it here and link to it -- hopefully, one way or the other, you'll see it and enjoy. Get out the popcorn, kids!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Just Use It

Today, create something useful.
You define useful.

P.S. Between Facebook, email and the blog, we had about 40 entries in last week's contest -- the final BlogHer giveaway on our blog. Deb A. is the lucky winner of the giftcard! Enjoy!

P.P.S. Thank you all for the wonderful poster ideas from yesterday! I may have to make several posters ...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Give Me a Slogan

Tom took this photo of me on top of Whittaker Point in Arkansas. I love it. From this distance, and compared to the bluff, I almost look thin. :-)

I want to make this into a poster, because I'm modest like that. However, it clearly calls out for a quote, a slogan, some brilliant copy. You know, not cheesy, as my friend Kara says. But fun.

Your assignment? Provide the words to go with the photo. Be nice. And if you can't be nice, be amusing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Freebies:

I love fresh flowers -- we don't wait for special occasions to buy a bouquet for the living room. Flowers make the whole house brighter.

So it's a treat for me to offer you a chance to win a $40 giftcard to, plenty of money for a beautiful bouquet. To enter this final BlogHer giveaway, simply tell me your favorite flower.

Post here or send an email to Entries accepted until Sunday, Oct. 31, at midnight Central time. Winner announced Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Full disclosure: is providing the giftcard and sent me the pictured bouquet to review. I liked the Birthday Flower Cake. I thought it was creative and the flowers stayed fresh for a really long time. It is interesting to note that the photo on the left is from the website. The photo on the right is what I received. Hmmmm. I'm guessing actual product varies with the delivering florist.

That said, give me flowers and I'm happy -- whatever form they're in. Oh, and my favorite flower is a daisy. Does that surprise you?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Ray Villafane Pumpkins

My friend Rick showed me these astonishing pumpkin carvings -- you can hardly call these jack-o-lanterns! And to make this extra inspirational, artist Ray Villafane shares the "how to" info here. (Click on that link and then scroll all the way down on his tutorial. Trust me. You want to.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

This wedding photo was taken 25 years ago today.

Celebrating this silver anniversary with Tom is especially joyous for me, because I didn't think we'd make it. A few years ago, I went to see a divorce attorney. The reasons behind that action are complex, personal and irrelevant. Let's just say ... I was done.

When I hit that point, Tom agreed to counseling. As a matter of fact, he suggested it ... frankly, I wasn't all that interested. However, feeling that we should be able to tell the girls we'd done everything possible to make it work, I told him that if he found the counselor and he scheduled the appointment, I'd go.

He did. I did. And you know what happened? We worked really hard with a really good counselor -- and we worked it out.

So today we're celebrating. Not because we took vows 25 years ago. Today we're celebrating because, every day, we look at each other and think: Do I really want to be here? Today? With this person?

And the answer remains, "I do."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Creativity Exercise: My Brain is Full

There's a right way to say something:

And a wrong way:

Today's exercise? Tell me why Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon is 2 million times funnier than Bil Keane's Family Circus.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creative Inspiration: Bird by Bird

I can't possibly say enough good things about my friend Barb -- on the personal or professional level. She's amazing and I wouldn't be where I am today without her help.

Barb recently sent me a excerpt from Anne Lamott's great book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

That's my plan for the week, folks. I'm taking it bird by bird!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Fun: Laughter Yoga

At the Speaking of Women's Health conference in KC recently, Eva and I took a course in Laughter Yoga.

What a hoot. Literally. Check it out with John Cleese. And today, remember: Fake it 'til you make it.* Your body won't know the difference.

*Yes. I know what you're thinking. And if it makes you laugh, I'm good with it ...

P.S. Happy weekend! And an especially happy weekend to Diana, who posted on Facebook and won the Snackerz! You should have the candy in time for Halloween, but I suggest keeping it as a treat for yourself. Those little goblins will get plenty of other stuff.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No Trick, Just a Treat!

When I attended BlogHer, I tasted a sample of the new candy from Butterfinger® -- Snackerz. Loved it. So I went to their booth the next day and asked if I could have another sample. One of the women at the booth handed me a candy bar. The other woman laughed and said, "That's not a sample!" She handed me a full bag of these delicious treats.

The lesson? Be generous.

And they're still being generous! Tell me your favorite Halloween treat -- post here or send an email to -- and you could win four fun-size bags of Snackerz or two boxes of full-size pouches. To make sure the winner receives the goodies before Halloween, I'm only taking entries until 8 p.m. Central time tonight. Winner announced tomorrow.

Full disclosure: Butterfinger is supplying the giveaway. They did not give me additional candy; I was given the bag of fun-size Snackerz at BlogHer. I do think Snackerz are delicious, and I don't especially like Butterfinger bars. These are different. Think grown-up version. Good with coffee.

P.S. Happy birthday to the man who instigated the blog!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Creativity Tips: Anticipate

In the next three weeks, I have three trips scheduled. Whoo-hoo! I love to travel , so going on the trips and looking forward to them is a real creative battery charge.

What are you eagerly anticipating?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creativity Tips: Engage Another Sense

Want to make sense out of a complex topic? Add another sense.

For example, look what happens when you listen to Sir Ken Robinson while also watching a whiteboard illustration of his topic. Fascinating. And I love his definition of creativity:

The process of having original ideas that have value.

Thanks to Bud for the link! And a very happy birthday to Tom! (That's my man. The cute little guy in the photo, a couple of birthdays ago.)

P.S. Isn't it discombobulating when the senses you add don't relate to the topic? For example, did you start reading this trying to figure out how the photo figured in?

P.P.S. Congrats to Mike D., winner of the Shapeways Color it! We'll do a yummy candy giveaway on Thursday. Judging from entries, food seems to be a more popular prize than toys. After that, I think I have a gift card for a bouquet of flowers and we're done with the giveaways.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Creativity Tips: Learn Something New

The recent Pew survey that found atheists were the best educated folks around re: religion didn't surprise me.

What DID surprise me is discovering that an atheist buddy of 36 years didn't understand when I said, "We've known each other 36 years. That's twice chai. It must be lucky!"

It's always good to learn something new, especially about other cultures. And Oct. 18 is the perfect day to discover the meaning of chai!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Freebie: Wild and Wooly Art

When I first considered doing giveaways, I wanted to make sure they fit with the blog ... and Shapeways Color it! sounded like a natural. Very creative. You color their outline of a sheep or a dog; they turn your art into a 3-dimensional statue. How cool is that!

Well ... yeah. It's a really cool idea. BUT ...
1. The pattern is so small it would frustrate little kids.
2. I needed help to upload my daughter Kate's drawing.
3. It's too expensive.

On the other hand:
1. Kate, my 20-year-old artist, really enjoyed coloring the sheep and waiting for her statue to arrive.
2. Shapeways did a great job of sending email updates re: progress on the statue, which helped build excitement.
3. It was a hoot to get it, and we like it -- even though the 3D version didn't turn out exactly like we expected. For example, the colors are off. And Kate's smiley face didn't work -- the smile, when stretched for the statue, ended up on the bottom side of the nose.

To sum it up: I wouldn't pay $50 for Wooly or Wiggle the Dog or their friends. BUT, it was a ton of fun for free. And that's what we're offering you! Leave a post or send an email and you're registered to win a Wooly or a Wiggle. Fun for you or a very different holiday gift.

I'll take posts and emails ( until midnight Sunday, Oct. 17. The Wooly/Wiggle Winner will be announced Tuesday, Oct. 19.

Thanks to Kate for being my artist! And thanks to Shapeways for today's giveaway and for giving me Wooly for free to review. Full Disclosure: I get to keep Wooly at the end of my review period. Well, Kate gets to keep Wooly. After all, it's her work of art!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Poetry Bonus

I somehow missed that this is the birthdate of e.e. cummings. Fortunately, The Writer's Almanac is on it. On today's almanac, my favorite poem of all time: i carry your heart with me.

I do. (i carry it in my heart)

Creativity Tips: Go for it!

Brag week would not be complete without a mention of Mike Brown, the instigator of the Creative Instigation blog and my first -- and for some time, only -- reader. About a year ago, Mike left his corporate job and launched Brainzooming. How's it going? Check this out. My brain zooms just thinking about his schedule. It's amazing what happens when you just go for it.

More recently, my friend Kami followed her dream to be a full-time photographer. Now, Kami is a talented copywriter, but her heart is really into photography, such as these shots. Given her writing background, it's no surprise that Kami's photos tell a story.

Speaking of stories, Kami told me a fun one re: this particular photo shoot. Looks gorgeous, right? Well, shlepping the bed outside was no picnic. Kami and her friend Kimberly finally got the bed into the field, and then Kami realized the mattress didn't fit the frame. With momma and toddlers on the way, they had to fix things fast. Fortunately, Kimberly saved the day, shoring up the mattress on concrete blocks.

Teamwork. As we know, it's a good thing! Tomorrow, I brag on Kate. And give you a chance to do something silly ...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creativity Tips: Listen, Look, Be Inspired

Brag week continues! I love braggin' on you!

Lezlie Revelle invites you to join the celebration at the release party for her solo CD, That Little Girl. If you're in the KC area, stop by the Westport Coffee House at 4010 Pennsylvania this Sunday, Oct. 17, between 6-8 p.m. There's no cover charge and it's a family friendly venue. I plan to be there -- I've heard the songs and they're wonderful. Lezlie is wonderful. Should be a perfect way to wrap up a weekend.

Head out a little early on Sunday, and you can enjoy the work of another amazing artist. The 2010 Solo Exhibition for Hana Christy Steinberg, Fresh Produce, is on display through Friday, Nov. 5, at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church at 4501 Walnut. Christy and I go waaaaay back. I don't even remember. High school for sure. Junior high, I think. Gallery hours are 9-4 MWTF, 9-2 Tues., and 7-3 Sunday.

It does your creative soul good to get out and about, and bask in the amazing talents of others. Plus, it's just plain fun.

What are you doing that we should share with the team? You don't have to be in KC. I'd love to hear from our talented team around the world! And, remember, we have a big definition of "creativity." So if you've come up with an amazing new recipe, a better way to jumpstart a dead battery, or a surefire method for soothing a cranky baby, let us know.

P.S. By the by, you can buy Lezlie's CD and/or Christy's paintings even if you're not in KC. Just visit their web sites.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Creativity Tips: Let It Be

As my family will attest, I cry at movies. Dramas, comedies, pirate flicks. Doesn't matter. At some point in a movie, I almost always cry. Words, on the other hand, hardly ever move me to tears.

Then my buddy Jean asked me to edit her artist's statement. Jean is the award-winning potter who crafted the gorgeous vessel you see here. In addition to being a potter, Jean is a teacher and a chef. I don't know that she would categorize herself as a writer. (Thus, the request for my editing prowess.) This is the copy she sent, the copy that made me cry:

"When I was a child I was fascinated with my father's polaroid camera. Watching the image emerge and slowly form out of a void was a mystical experience. The idea of being the subject of the photo and simultaneously being the audience to a photographic performance was thrilling but somewhat confusing. Almost frightening.

"I'm reminded of those feelings each time I watch the colors and shapes define themselves on a cooling pot. I had created those forms - coaxed them from a ball of clay, stretched and pulled them into a chosen shape. My hands had formed the profile and burnished the surface. But the fire had created its own performance and now I was the audience.

"Time and memory. Memories of specific moments; memories of what has been absorbed through cultural exposure; things forgotten but retrieved with a flash of recognition. Times ancient; time flowing like gasses across a porcelain surface; a time for control and a time to relinquish control to just watch and remember."

How incredibly beautiful and poetic. And you know what an editor should do with copy like that? Let it be. I made incredibly minor edits -- capped Polaroid, changed a few verb tenses. Jean loved the edits, so I'm sharing those as an example of how tiny changes can strengthen even incredible copy:

"When I was a child, I was fascinated with my father's Polaroid camera. Watching the image emerge and slowly form out of a void was a mystical experience. The idea of being the subject of the photo and simultaneously being the audience to a photographic performance was thrilling but somewhat confusing. Almost frightening.

"I'm reminded of those feelings each time I watch the colors and shapes define themselves on a cooling pot. I created those forms - coaxed them from a ball of clay, stretched and pulled them into a chosen shape. My hands formed the profile and burnished the surface. But the fire created its own performance and, again, I am the audience.

"Time and memory. Memories of specific moments; memories of what has been absorbed through cultural exposure; things forgotten but retrieved with a flash of recognition. Times ancient; time flowing like gasses across a porcelain surface; a time for control and a time to relinquish control. A time to watch and remember."

While Jean works on her web site, you don't need to wait to see/buy her work. Just send me an email and I'll pass it along:

P.S. Contest winner! Sandy, who posted a response on Facebook, will be the recipient of Cheryl's Cookies for the Cure Tower of Treats! Cheryl's is providing Sandy's prize, and provided two cookies for me as a sample. (Mmmmmm.) Thanks to Cheryl's and all who entered. And stay tuned! I have a few more giveaways up my sleeve, and then ... we'll be back to normal Fridays.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Creativity Tips: Celebrate the Team

There are weeks when I have no idea what I'm going to write about on the blog. This is not one of those weeks. I have a huge backlog of info I want to share with you, thanks to the successes and activities of CI team members -- including moi, as Miss Piggy would say.

To get me out of the way, two quick things:
  1. From the Heart is great -- wonderful stories and poems about parenting. I haven't finished reading the book, but what I've read is really solid. I'm honored to be included in the anthology. Proceeds from book sales benefit children's hospitals, so please consider this when you start your holiday shopping.*
  2. For my New York area friends, I'm speaking at the 2010 PRSA Northeast District Conference Nov. 4 -- and I'm really excited. I spoke to the group last year, and can't wait to see them again. And here's a writing lesson: They're billing me as a "conference bonus." Isn't that wonderful? They needed some way to explain my session: I'll be hosting an all-day room for creative instigation, discussion, etc. I think the "bonus" label is really fun.
OK. We're done with me. Tomorrow, gorgeous copy from Jean and a quick editing lesson. And more success from you throughout the week! Send me an email if you'd like to share an accomplishment:

*If you have already finished your holiday shopping, we can no longer be friends. Seriously. OK, not seriously, but sheeesh. You're making me look bad.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Food is Love: Cookies for the Cure

My mom is a breast cancer survivor. I lost Du to breast cancer earlier this year. A number of my friends have had breast cancer. So, Breast Cancer Awareness month is special to me.

Given that, I was delighted to talk with Mary Eckenrode from Cheryl's about Cookies for the Cure, their current fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

"Our company is passionate about reaching out to organizations and specifically to the Susan G. Komen Foundation," Mary says. "Many of our associates have been touched by breast cancer -- we've all been touched in some way."

I appreciate that commitment -- and I also like Cheryl's for three other big reasons:
  1. Cheryl, who started the company, used to bake with her grandmother and brought some of the old family recipes to the business. My grandmother's kitchen was one of my favorite places on earth. Talk about food is love ...
  2. Before sending sample cookies for us to review, Mary said, "Oh, honey! Just wait until you taste them. Our buttercream frosted cookies are to die for. They will melt in your mouth!" Trust me, that's not copy someone wrote for her to say. Mary likes the cookies. Genuine enthusiasm from a corporate spokesperson. Gotta love that.
  3. The review cookies lived up to the promotion. My Mary -- cookie taster extraordinaire -- said: "Very good. Soft. The icing wasn't too sweet like some buttercreams can be. The cookie is a nice texture, not too soft, so you can hold it, but soft enough. Overall, very good. Tastes homemade."

And here's one more reason to like Cheryl's. They're going to give one of you a treat -- "Cookies for the Cure Treat Tower." All three layers of the tower are pink boxes. One tier includes the buttercream pink hearts, another tier includes a sugar, oatmeal, chocolate chip assortment, and the last tier includes four frosted brownies that I've been told are incredible.

I'm gaining weight just thinking about it. If you'd like to win the treat tower, just post a comment here.* Tell me what cookie you like best, or post the name of someone you'd like to honor during Breast Cancer Awareness month. Tell me your favorite color. I don't care ... just post something. Or, since I know some of you don't like posting, you can email me at I'll take entries through Sunday, Oct. 10, at midnight. Winner will be announced Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Thanks to Cheryl's for supporting the cause!

* I think the posting thing on Blogspot has issues. If you don't get a word to copy for the "word verification" line, just type in XXX. It will come back and tell you the answer didn't match, and then give you a word. Works for me every time. Happy weekend!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Creativity Tips: Do Something New. For Yourself

You know why I love being a writer? Every day brings an opportunity to learn something new.

For example, yesterday afternoon I called Ken, a senior account executive in Portland, Ore. I needed info for a client's newsletter and Ken was tremendously helpful. Here's how we wrapped up our chat:

Ken: "Now, I want you to go out and do something for yourself that you've never done before."

Jan: "Excuse me?"

Ken: "We always find time to take care of a brother or sister. We never find time to take care of ourselves. I want you to keep a list of things you see that look like fun, things you've never done. Write down how much time and money each thing would take. Then, once a month, look at your list, decide how much time and money you have, and choose one thing to do. You'll be amazed at how much good it does you -- and how many great people you meet."

Now, this is coming from a man who appreciates life. Ken beat the odds and stage 4 melanoma years ago; he was gearing up for a 50-mile bike ride after we talked. My time on the phone with him was a gift -- one I'm delighted to share with you.

I do love my job. And, today, I start writing my list.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When I am an old woman

Get out your red pens! Here's your chance to edit my poetry before I take it to a writers' workshop tomorrow night. The draft below is a riff on Warning by Jenny Joseph. Let me know what you think ... and thanks to my Facebook/blog friends who saw this last night and commented! (And to Bud, who made me laugh with an email re: the importance of never, ever wearing a red hat.)

When I am an old woman
©2010 Jan Sokoloff Harness

When I am an old woman, I shall wear black
except to funerals. Then I’ll wear green to show I’m alive.
The friends I am burying will understand.
And I shall spend my savings on good wine and leather-bound books
and red flannel shirts and say there’s no money for a walker.
I shall never sit on the pavement, even when tired,
or on a bench or in a rocker. I shall sit in the driver’s seat
of a baby Benz and drive with the top down every summer.
I shall go out in my jammies to pick up the paper
and sip Jamaican coffee with cream while my collie runs free
and happily amok in the nasty neighbor’s yard.

You can have gorgeous white hair and laugh lines you’ve earned
and eat bagels and lox, dark chocolate and salads,
or only bread and butter if that’s what you want
and be glad there is nothing you care to hoard.

But now we must have sensible shoes and a working umbrella
and pay for the toll roads and for tuition
and read the obituaries just to keep score.
We must do lunch and check our email and answer every beeping call.

But in the future, I will be fun again. I will be me.
And people who know me will not be shocked
when suddenly I am old, and still wearing black.

(With apologies to Jenny Joseph, author of “Warning”)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Pick-Up Lines

There are some lines too good to ignore, and Angela gave me one the other day with this Facebook post about her husband, Michael:

Some lady offered to hold Michael's ladder while he was trimming trees. Geez...

Oh, yeah, baby. I'd like to hold your ladder. (Ha! LOVE it! So much better than, "What's a nice guy like you doing in a tree like that?")

Today's exercise? It's multiple choice -- choose the one you like, post if you want, or just play with the words in your wonderfully creative brain.
  1. Think of a good-looking person, at least 40 years old, who lives in suburbia. Come up with a great pick-up line for that tree-trimming, happily married hottie.
  2. Answer this: What was the best pick-up line you ever heard? Ever used?
  3. Tell me why the 20-something guy who recently stopped me at a restaurant to compliment my jewelry IMMEDIATELY followed that lovely comment with, "I'm not trying to pick you up." Really? You're not? I'm astonished. Wait 'til I tell my friends at AARP. (Private joke to Jody: Yes. I think he had shuffleboard abs.)

Taking care of business: Congrats to Stephanie, who won the two Mastermind games! I only have a few more post-BlogHer giveaways planned. For example, this Friday, we'll be giving away a tower of yummy goodies from Cheryl's as part of Cookies for the Cure, a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good news and a good reminder

We'll start the week off with good news: Amber's doctor says she's cancer-free! As the kids would say: Woot! Thanks for the good thoughts and fun links throughout the past year as she's gone through chemo after chemo, surgery after surgery. She's regaining her strength now, and should be back at work later this month or early next month. Amber totally rocks.

Eva also rocks. My sister and I have a tradition of attending the Speaking of Women's Health event in Kansas City every year -- one year, she buys the tickets for my birthday present; the next year, I buy the tickets for her birthday present. This year, she bought. One message that resounded in every session? Breathe.

We've talked about it before, but I'm astonished at how often I forget to breathe. And I'm not alone. Look it up: Idea #13 -- stolen from the first person who impressed it on me, my daughter Kate.

Here's to a happy, healthy week! Complete with oxygen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday Freebie: Mastermind!

All right! We're starting the giveaways. Up first, two Mastermind® games -- the classic version and Animal Towers. To enter, just leave a comment by midnight Sunday, Oct. 3, telling me your favorite game. One winner, chosen at random, will be announced next Tuesday.

Pressman® sent review copies for me to keep and will provide the giveaway games. The review games went to two of my younger buddies, Daniel and Jacob.

Here's Daniel's take on Mastermind:
I was excited when I heard I was going to review Mastermind and Mastermind Towers. Mastermind is a fun and challenging game. In Mastermind there are two players, the code maker and the code breaker. The code maker makes a code with colored pegs, the code breaker guesses a combination and the code maker responds with other red and white pegs. I liked this game a lot, it is perfect for 10-year-olds.

And here's the review on Animal Towers from Daniel's brother Jacob -- and mom Vicki:
Mastermind Towers is a fun logic game for younger kids. It's a two player game played with plastic and cardboard tiles illustrated with cute animals. The players each pick a certain number of plastic animal tiles, and then arranges them vertically in a plastic tower. Each player gets larger cardboard tiles with the same pictures their opponent has in his or her tower, and then players take turns asking questions. The object of the game is to figure out the order, from top to bottom, of your opponents animal tiles. This game was slightly difficult for my 6-year-old, who enjoyed playing it with help, but slightly older kids really liked playing it. Here's what Jacob (age 6) had to say about the game: "The game is really fun. I like the animals. It's a good game for kids my age."

The experts have spoken: Now let's hear from you! (Hmmm. Does that sound bad? You know what I mean.) Tell me your favorite game and you could win. And, yes. You can define "game" anway you'd like ...

P.S. There is a creativity lesson here. Someone at Pressman said, "Hey, we've been selling this classic game for years. How can we expand the market?" And someone else said, "Well, maybe we could come up with a version for little kids." And, voila! A new twist on the old game.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creativity Tips: Take time for "little" things

Yesterday, I read an obituary in the Kansas City Star for a woman named Faye. I didn't know Faye very well, but seeing the obituary reminded me of her mother -- Sarah.

Sarah was a distant, distant relative. If I remember correctly, her brother was my father's brother-in-law. My father's sister died far too early, so the "blood" connection was broken when I was very young. And yet ...

Sarah sent everyone in the family birthday cards. She never, never forgot a birthday. Friends might remember or might not. Aunts and uncles sent a card, but not always on time. Sarah, on the other hand, was clockwork.

To her, those cards may have been a little thing. To me, they're a treasured memory.

Sarah made me feel special.

One of my favorite people celebrated her birthday this past Tuesday. But you know what? I'm a really busy gal. Who has time to remember birthdays? Who has time to let people know you love them?

Faye's death reminded me of Sarah's life. So I'm sending a birthday message to Lucinda today -- and I'll send it on time next year.

Little things make a difference. And today is the best day to let people know you love them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Creativity Exercise: FALL in Love

In honor of my very favorite season, here's the second in our series of One Word Wonders.* Give me one word that says FALL to you. I'll start:

Cowboy boots.**

*Yes. I know a compound modifier should be hyphenated: One-Word Wonders. I don't want to hyphenate it. And it's my blog, dang it.

**Yes. I also know that-- TECHNICALLY -- my response is two words. Here's the deal: It's a game. We make up the rules. We can break them. Ain't life grand?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Site Seeing: 100 Best First Lines

Because I have no blog posts written
Because I was writing for a client until after 7 p.m.
Because I went on Facebook for mindless recreation

You score!

Thanks to David for posting this link to the American Book Review's list of the 100 Best First Lines from novels. What can you do with this list? The opportunities are endless. For starts:
  1. Check the list and see how many of the novels you've read. Read more.
  2. Choose a line and use it to start a 3-minute free write. (Just write. No edits. Pen to paper, preferably.)
  3. Decide which of the 100 is your favorite. I choose #15. It's poetry. Although I wouldn't argue with #16. And, yes. I read all 100. You are such a skeptic.
  4. See how many of the titles you know or can guess simply from reading the line.
  5. Be amazed that "It was a dark and stormy night" is #22. Who knew?

Tomorrow, I will not rely solely on the kindness of Facebook friends. I'll write something before I'm too tired to think. Cross my heart and hope to have a line on someone's list.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Fun: Love Note Day

I love you.

And why am I saying that today? Because in the world of silly holidays, this is Love Note Day. Seriously. I couldn't make that up. So, write a love note to someone you adore. That will require a pen. And paper. OK, maybe not a pen. Maybe not paper. You could use icing and a cake. But I'm thinking email is feeble when it comes to love notes.

We're also going to look ahead at honest-to-goodness, not concocted celebrations. October is the birthday month for a tremendous number of my closest friends -- including Lynn J., whose birthday is Oct. 5. That day, according to, is "America's most common birthday." is launching a Deliver Birthday Smiles campaign, and we're going to be part of it. They'll send me a bouquet, I'll review it, and do a giveaway to share the fun. For info on their campaign, visit or

Now, go write your love note!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Creativity Tips: Fake It

First of all, that's not the "it" I'm talking about, so clean up your act.

Thank you. Now, let's get back to business. Here's a tip I use to make myself feel better on days when my longest piece of writing is my to do list. I add items I know I'll quickly cross off.

For example, I'm writing this sentence at 6:14 a.m. I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and realized I needed to put money into Mary's school lunch account online. After making coffee, before going online, I added that task to my ridiculously over-extended to do list.

Why? Because now it's 6:15 a.m. and I already have something crossed off my list. That's right! I went online and four clicks later had paid for incredible school nutrition for my baby. Good lord, I'm one productive, creative woman! I'm amazing! It's 6:15 a.m. and I'm already crossing things off the list. And, back in the running for Mother of the Year.

Fake it, folks.*

*Digression that some of you will understand: If you haven't watched When Harry Met Sally in a while, watch it again. The scene in the diner is still hysterical. Rob Reiner's mother has perfect timing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Creative Query: Blogger

Lezlie brought up an interesting question in a blog comment recently. I'm going to expand on it:
  1. If you were going to blog, what would you blog about?
  2. If you do blog, how important do you think it is to stick with one topic?
  3. Why would you start a blog? OR ... Why do you blog?

Please link to your blogs in the comments section. There are an amazing number of CI team members with really cool blogs. We're quite the talented team!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Creativity Tips: Prop Up Your Halloween Costume

I know. I know. It's only September and I'm talking about Halloween. I could blame it on the retail rush of the seasons, but ... that's not it.

I'm blaming it on Mary, my youngest. Thanks to her, you get an early tip for Halloween planning.

Mary recently went to a costume party with a celebrity theme. She initially planned to buy a bunch of baby dolls, attach them to her shirt, pen on some tattoos and go as Angelina Jolie. I liked that idea, but questioned how expensive the dolls would be. (There you have it, practical mom, squelching creativity.)

For some reason -- and it wasn't practicality -- she and her buddy Erin decided to go as Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen. Now, if you get People magazine, you know they're holding a cup from Starbucks in almost every photo. So, the girls went to Starbucks, asked for empty cups, fixed their hair and went.

Pay attention to details. They really do prop up creative ideas!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Creativity Tips: Don't Contradict Yourself

Now, to be fair to the good folks at Home Depot, I wouldn't have seen the Do Not Enter vs. Welcome conundrum if I hadn't been entering an exit. But still, it's a good reminder to make sure your words and design/images work together.

It's a new week! Welcome! (Seriously ... come on in. The water's fine.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food is Love: Corn Casserole

My buddy Scott does the most wonderful thing: He listens. When I talk to him, he listens. He's interested, he pays attention, he asks questions, he remembers what concerns me and inquires about it later. He listens. Isn't that amazing? Such a lost art.

Scott also cooks and bakes -- he's multi-talented. And today's "Food is Love" recipe is one he requested. It's basically from The Pampered Chef's Recipes from the Heart Cookbook. The cookbook calls this "escalloped corn." I call it "the corn casserole thingy with green chilies." You'll call it delicious.

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter*, melted
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
1 package (8 1/2 ounces) cornbread mix (I use Jiffy corn muffin mix. Mmm.)
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained

Preheat oven to 350. In large bowl, combine butter, creamed corn and whole kernel corn; stir in sour cream and eggs. Add cornbread mix; blend well. Stir in chilies. Pour batter into greased 13x9-inch glass baking dish. Bake 35-40 minutes until lightly browned and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Eat like a little piggy because that's how good it is!

*Yeah, yeah, if you have to use something else, go ahead. I'm just sayin' ... unsalted is best. And please don't tell me if you use margarine. I want us to remain friends.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Creative Inspiration: What People Give You

Here's a gorgeous, evocative poem by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno: What People Give You.

Don't you love how the right words can put you in that house, by that sink, at that moment?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creativity Tips: Name Your Cows

Whenever I fly on Southwest, I enjoy reading Spirit magazine ... always something fun in there. For example, did you know that cows with names produce considerably more milk than nameless cattle? As Spirit notes:

"Udder nonsense? Scientists think not. After studying the working relationships between farmers and dairy cows, researchers at Newcastle University in the UK found that farmers who gave Bessie and Gertrude TLC reaped the benefits of increased milk yield over a 10-month period."

Yes! Creative proof for my theory that being nice isn't just the right thing to do: It's good business.

Let's milk that for all it's worth.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Creativity Tips: Listen to the Pioneer Woman

Last week, I was starting to think ... well, maybe I've read enough of the Pioneer Woman. I love her photos, but I rarely pick up a camera. I love her recipes, but I have a million of them in my cooking queue. I love her stories, but ... well ... I'm sorta tired of the cows and the horses and her hubby's cute tush.

Then, she wrote this. As a longtime blogger and a lifetime writer, every word of her advice rings true. And she has roped me right back in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Creativity Tips: Applaud Yourself

What's the best thing you ever, ever created?

Think about it ... and we're talking big picture "creativity" here. It could be a child, a birthday cake, a poem, a strategic plan, a photo, an essay, a quilt, a friendship ... whatever.

Now, as you think about it, remember: You define best. It could be the one thing that brought you the most joy. The most money. The best response.

Whatever you created, however you define best, celebrate it* today. Applaud yourself.

You totally rock.

(Want a creativity exercise to go with the tip? Easy. Write a song to celebrate yourself, to the tune of Popeye the Sailor Man. Yes. I'm serious. Start writing!)

*Can't choose just one thing? Isn't that wonderful? Mazel tov! You're spectacular!!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Fun: Tales of Denim

OK ... I'm going to share. I told you about Talbot's Tales of Denim contest, asking for a six-word story about a pair of jeans. Turns out, the online form also allows entrants to provide a title, adding a whole new level of creative possibilities. Here's what I submitted:

Whoa, Baby
I should have left them zipped.

I think that's good enough to score a trip to Paris. But humility has never been my strong point.

Happy Friday! Happy weekend! Go play! (And you know what to do with your zippers.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Happy New Year

Jews around the world celebrate Rosh Hashanah today -- the Jewish New Year.

Now, I'm a Jewish mother, not a Jewish theologian. But here's my basic take on it: If you compare the Jewish New Year to the secular celebration, Rosh Hashanah is more about making peace and less about making resolutions.

It's a time to make amends with people you've wronged. A time to forgive people who've wronged you. It's a time to start fresh -- which is different than starting over.

If I have hurt you this past year, knowingly or unknowingly, please forgive me. (If I hurt you knowingly, I've probably already spoken to you directly. I'm making the rounds.) If you have hurt me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive you.

Here's to a happy, healthy year. A sweet year. A year filled with love and learning, friends and family. Here's to hope and dreams and faith. Here's to creativity that brings you joy. And here's to the work that makes it real.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Creative Critic: Until I Find You

I finally finished Until I Find You by John Irving. Ohmilord. Where do I even begin a review?

To set the stage, Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my all-time favorite books. I think it's brilliant. Fortunately, I read it before I read Until I Find You -- because I may never read another Irving book again.

Until I Find You proves that talent is no guarantee of ... well, anything. Irving is obviously a talented writer. And yet ...

The characters in this novel are unappealing and unreal. The only characters with any charm are too-soon killed. The dialogue and much of the action is completely implausible. And repulsive -- do any siblings really discuss the proper way they should kiss each other on the mouth?

Oh, heck. Forget the uncharismatic characters and the overwrought plot. The writing is awful. (By which I mean, not good. Not good at all.) Irving has a ridiculously unnecessary parenthetical phrase (that is to say, not needed) on almost every page. And there are more than 800 pages (which, one might say, would be many chapters indeed).

My big learning came from my buddy Lynn, after she listened to me whine about the novel.

"You don't have to finish it, Janet," she said. "If you're not engaged in a book, stop reading. Find another book."

Next time, I'll listen to Lynn. This time, I kept reading -- hoping against hope that John Irving would pull it out of the fire. He never did. Too bad. He was one of my favorite authors. Until He Lost Me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Creativity Tips: It's Always Personal

For one of her journalism classes last week, my daughter Kate live-tweeted a presentation celebrating the K-State J-school's centennial. One of her tweets, quoting a speaker, really hit home with me: "Every national story is someone's local story."

Then, on Facebook, author Stephanie Calmenson posted a note about the first Brooke Jackman Foundation Read-A-Thon -- scheduled for this morning. If you're in NYC, check it out.

After I looked at the Read-A-Thon info, I read all about Brooke Jackman, a lovely 23-year-old woman who was killed in the 9-11 attacks.

Throughout the week, we'll hear stories tied to the 9-11 anniversary. It's a national story. For New Yorkers, it's a local story. And for oh so many people, it's a personal story.

Remember when you write: Every word matters. Every story is personal to someone.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Fun: Pacman Lives

First and foremost, good news! Amber came through her surgery (all 6.5 hours of it!) in good shape. The doctor said they got the entire tumor this time. Yes! Thanks for the good thoughts and I'll keep you posted. Now ... back to your regularly scheduled Friday Fun:

I have never been any good at Pacman. This was a problem back in the ... what? '70s? '80s? Whenever. Back when I was dating. I definitely couldn't impress guys with my Pacman skills. I also couldn't feign interest in their high scores.

Level 5? Really. Wow ... look at the time.

That said, I'm guessing a few CI team members love Pacman. So here's one version for you. And if you'd rather play with Homer, I found a Simpson version. At least the "d'oh!" with this one amused me.

Here's to an amusing three-day weekend! With very little labor ...

(Does "play with Homer" sound bad to anyone but me? Perhaps I need a three-day weekend.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Creativity Tips: I Love Creative Medicine

Do you ever stop and think about how amazingly creative the field of medicine is? There are so many ways to treat an illness now, thanks to new drugs, new procedures -- and creative doctors who continually find different ways to cure people.

Ten years ago, TIME magazine named the PET/CT scanner the medical invention of the year. As you can tell from the Wikipedia article, the device was created by brilliant people building on the learnings of other brilliant people.

I really appreciate all these people. They're helping Amber, my 26-year-old niece, kick her ovarian cancer.

Since many of you have asked how Amber is doing, I want to give you a quick update. The PET scan taken after Amber's last massive round of chemo revealed two tiny spots of cancer. So, now that she has built up her strength, she's heading back to the hospital today for one more operation. The chemo shrank the tumor by her heart to the point where the surgeon can remove it. The surgeon will also be removing the itsy, bitsy cancer by Amber's belly button.

Ovarian cancer is tough. Fortunately, so is Amber. She's also looking dang good for a young woman who's been through so much! (I know. Looks are not what's important. But, in this case, Amber's beauty is as much a reflection of her indomitable spirit as a tribute to her gorgeous eyes. My nephew Cary does know how to pick 'em!)

Thanks for all your good thoughts and I'll keep you posted.

By the by, Amber had no idea when she joined the CI team that she was getting an arsenal of cheerleaders -- she really appreciates the support!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Creativity Tips: Celebrate September

Ohmigosh. It's September. I love September. For me, it signals the pending fall, and I love fall. Or, as Woody Allen would say, I lerve fall. Why? It's cooler. I live in the Midwest -- it's gorgeous. The trees transform. Added bonus: October brings the birthdays of a million people I adore and my wedding anniversary.

You get the picture: September starts a fabulous season. So, celebrate properly. Go for a long walk today and look for a fall color. What color is that? You tell me. We could go with the basic yellow. Or orange. Or brown. But fall to you might be burgundy. Or pink.

Whatever. Choose one of those lovely colors, and go find all the shades of it you can.

(We fall in love, don't we? We don't spring into love. No one summers or winters love. Heck, winter is the time of our discontent. I could go on, but I lerve you too much to continue.)